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Gilded Serpent presents...
DVD Review of
Bellyqueen's
Bellydance Jam

by Mara al-Nil

After a brief intro, Bellyqueen's Kaeshi Chai and Amar Gamal lead the warm up and foundation sections, which last about 25 minutes

From the start, the production quality is superb. 

The choice of Amar's and Kaeshi's black pants and crop tops with silver hip belts works well against the plain red, blue, or yellow backgrounds with white floor that is used throughout the DVD.  Dance movements are visible at all times due to the uncluttered set and exceptional videography.  In fact, the only thing I disliked about the videography was a few views of of the dancers shot upwards from below.  There was no good reason to shoot from this angle, and I found it distracting.  I'm assuming that the angle was included to provide variety, but it was unnecessary.  However, in the larger scheme of  the creative video techniques I've seen used in other videos, this odd camera angle was restrained, brief, and ultimately forgivable, given the overall high quality of the camera work.  (The camera work included good close-ups of hip moves, foot positions, and a nice side view demonstrating pelvic tilts.)

While there is the usual opening disclaimer about consulting a physician or health and fitness expert along with a jacket note referencing Bellyqueen's consultation with a kinesiologist and Laban movement specialist, there is limited information given during the instruction about  moving safely.  For example, there is nothing mentioned about proper body mechanics when doing an upper torso circle, a move very likely to be done incorrectly without specific instructions.  Additionally, during the cool down section, when head rolls are demonstrated, the instructors did not employ rolling the head back-which is the safe and correct procedure-but also did not warn students that they should avoid that part of the move.  Given that most people, at some point, learned to roll the head completely back and around, it would have been useful guidance to point out that the rolling toward the back was not to be included. 

In fact, throughout the instruction, only a few specific details were given as to how to do the various moves.  Mentioning things such as where the weight is at a given point or noting common errors to be avoided could have eliminated this flaw.  On the plus side, the 21 moves shown are basic and easy to follow.  The DVD also offers several easy combination moves, such as the 3 step turn with upper body circle and arm variations with hip locks.  As a matter of personal taste, I would have preferred seeing the legs a bit closer together on the forward hip locks.  The wide stance used by both dancers for that movement can look a bit vulgar inadvertently.  Other than that, their posture and movement are quite good, no doubt because of both being certified group exercise instructors, and because of the consultation with movement experts mentioned previously.

The next section, BQ Boogie, is a simple choreography based on the preceding foundations.  The choreography is shown first in the studio setting, then in a simulated club setting, with 2 additional dancers, all in club clothing

The videography is still excellent, even in the darkened club setting, allowing dancers to be easily seen.  A nice touch is the voice-over calling out each step in the choreography.  However, I would have preferred seeing dancers with different body types represented in this section, rather than all of them having the same lean frames.

The last of the exercise part of the DVD is its cool-down section.  This part is a typical cool down, with only one exception that I found rather jarring.  Each time, while doing forward bends and reaches, Kaeshi's braided hair falls across her face right under her nose, visually cutting her lovely face in half with a black stripe!  This could have been an opportunity to teach how to gracefully keep hair off the face by sweeping the arm under one's hair, then extending the arm out-thus brushing the hair neatly aside. 

The next section of the DVD focuses on improvisation

Why improvising may be problematic and how to overcome the resulting problems are discussed briefly. 

Several improvisational options are mentioned: dancing to the beat, melody or accents or dancing to a combination of all three.  Short demos are given, but these are not particularly helpful as they are too brief and not noticeably different enough from each other, especially for students who might have no musical background.  The “melody” and “beat, melody & accents” sections are especially weak in this regard.

Two “stepping patterns” (transition steps) are shown next. Again, some of the moves are done too “large” for my taste. I prefer a somewhat more restrained, controlled & elegant look—but this is a matter of personal taste, and others may differ with me on this. Also, there is the issue of club dancing being a little more “loose” in general than performance dance. The DVD caters to the club crowd, especially in its choice of music, so it is perhaps not too surprising that some of their moves reflect this.

The partner combinations section lists all variations of partnered moves-mirror, synchronized, call and answer, opposites, see-saw, and back and forth.  This is an area where Kaeshi and Amar shine! 

Because they dance as a duo, it's no wonder that they have covered virtually all the possibilities of partnered dance.  The back and forth section could have been a little more controlled, however.  Some dancers may take it as a license to become wild.  Again, this is a matter of personal taste.

The guided improvisation is the last part of the improvisation section.  The exhortation to "take it to the dance floor" and many of the voice-over suggestions for improvisation ("relax and let go",  "ride the melody, make it your own") are not much help.  "Hit the accent" and "travel across the floor" are a bit more useful.  The visuals consist solely of changing patterns of color and light.  No dancers are shown.  The visuals are combined with techno-style music with an Arabic beat.  This is the weakest part of the entire DVD.  Especially for beginning dancers, seeing each of the Bellyqueen duo improvising in this section would have been more valuable, as would having more specific suggestions in the voice-overs.

The last section of the DVD consists of special features:  performances and interviews.

Amar performs a drum solo and there are snippets of Bellyqueen and Bellydance Superstars performances.  "Dunyavi Gypsy Passion" by Kaeshi also adds some variety to this section.  In the part concerning interviews, several dancers and two musicians give fairly short personal accounts of their involvement in Belly dance.  It was a wise decision to keep these accounts brief, thus avoiding the interminable talking heads found in many other dance videos

I found it ironic, though, that one of the very first statements is that this style of dance is "made for every body type."  It's too bad that this was not validated in the DVD by actually showing dancers of every body type!  Without exception, all of the dancers shown are young, thin, and beautiful.

This section also includes the history of Bellyqueen, and gives a personal touch to the DVD.  I enjoyed learning something about the dancers and hearing their stories.

Two especially nice features are the optional Spanish voice-over on the DVD and the bonus music CD.  Having a music CD included is a great idea.  It allows people to practice the moves they've just learned to a variety of music right away, without having to hunt for music in the sometimes elusive Middle Eastern genre.  While I found the first two tracks of the CD a bit repetitive and uninspiring, the rest of the CD provided some variety.  In general, I would have preferred authentic, traditional Middle Eastern music, but the niche for this DVD and CD is the club crowd.  Tracks 4, 8, 9 and 10 may be more acceptable to purists, but overall, the mix is an edgy, urban, funky techno-Arab sound which might have crossover appeal to a younger, perhaps more trendy audience than would the usual Arabic classics. 

A final feature is a printed reference list of the 21 foundation moves, 8 improvisational suggestions, 2 transition steps, and 6 combinations for partners in English and Spanish.

All-in-all, this is an extremely well made Belly dance package.  I would recommend it without hesitation to any  dancer who wanted to learn some Belly dance basics, get a fun, low-impact fitness workout and spice up their club dancing.

Go to the Bellyqueen site for more information on this product-http://www.bellyqueen.com/bellydancejam/aboutdvd.html

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